As police have a heightened presence on Ontario roads for the long weekend, for officers like Halton Regional Police Const. Marc Taraso — and many others like him — the battle against distracted driving doesn’t stop.
Taraso, an 11-year officer with the service and a dedicated traffic officer in Oakville since January, takes residents on patrol with him through posts on his Twitter account on a regular basis. His tweets range from routine traffic stops to simply bizarre Highway Traffic Act infractions.
In a post on Saturday that got more than 1,800 likes, he said he encountered a first in his policing career.
“A lady went by and she had her phone up on the steering wheel. And when I came up to her, she was taking a selfie while driving on Trafalgar Road … She kind of kept contorting herself and when I looked in she was making duck-lip face for her selfie,” Taraso told Global News, adding the 22-year-old driver was visiting Ontario from Nova Scotia.
“She took multiple pictures … When I knocked on the window, she had a jolted look and dropped the phone.”
The price for those prized selfies? He said she was issued a $615 ticket, three demerit points and a three-day licence suspension (if convicted).
Taraso also recalled a recent incident when he said he was almost side-swiped by a woman eating steak out of bowl while they were travelling along a ‘S’-shaped bend on a road. He said he was able to pull her over and charged her with careless driving.
Even on his way to an interview with Global News Monday morning to talk about distracted driving, Taraso cited a man hauling a 24-foot recreational trailer with his truck.
“He was going down a hill texting away, probably going 45 km/h — that really concerns me because we have a lot of vulnerable road users,” Taraso said.
“We’ve got cyclists, motorcycles out, we’ve got pedestrians out, we’ve got scooters, and these people don’t stand a chance if they get hit by a vehicle … they’re going to suffer severe injuries or even death.”
According to Ontario Provincial Police, 55 deaths and 9,115 collisions were linked to inattentive driving on OPP-patrolled roads in 2018. OPP officers laid 13,529 distracted driving charges against motorists during the same period.
On Jan. 1, stiff penalties took effect for distracted driving.
If convicted, drivers could face a three-day licence suspension, a fine of up to $1,000 and three demerit points. If there are second and third convictions within five years, the fines double and triple, respectively.
Each instance would also result in six demerit points. Drivers would lose their licence for seven days upon the second conviction and 30 days upon the third conviction.
Drivers with G1 and G2 licences could face 30- and 90-day licence suspensions upon first and second convictions, respectively. A third conviction could result in a licence cancellation.
Taraso said the rules in Ontario are similar to other jurisdictions.
“You can’t hold your phone while driving,” he said.
“If that phone is in your hand, it’s distracting you and it’s also reducing your ability to conduct emergency steering.”
When asked if he’s surprised by the regular violations he sees, Taraso was blunt.
“I’m not really amazed any more. I’ve kind of gotten immune to it because I see everything,” he said.
“I thought I was going to see a significant reduction when we had these fines increased in January. Unfortunately, we’re still getting people using their phones … we’ve been telling people for 10 years not to touch your phone while driving.”
— With files from Caryn Lieberman and Hannah Jackson